September 18th, 2008

Culture Wars

I've never understood why one shouldn't accept evolution and still be open to the existence of God. That, apparently was Darwin's own position. It was the position of a lot of other Victorians too. People like Charles Kingsley, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning. They absorbed the new scientific information and adjusted their theology accordingly. I'm a bit hazy now about what they taught me at Westcott House Theological College- nearly 40 years ago- but I remember reading a huge and very entertaining book about the 19th century culture wars and coming to the end and thinking, "Well that's sorted; I don't have to worry about that any more."

God may or may not exist- but if He does, why shouldn't evolution be one of his tools? Simple as that.

But here we are- well over a century after it seemed like the issue was settled- and the controversy is still raging- only now the Darwinists- some of them-  (unmindful of their man's quiet agnosticism) are just as virulent and bigoted as their fundamentalist opponents. A Professor Reiss has just had to step down from his job as Director of Education for the Royal Society for suggesting, in a nuanced speech, that Creationsim should be treated with respect in Science classes and engaged with- because, well,  stomping all over people's sensitive religious and cultural beliefs just alienates them and is counterproductive.

A modest proposal- maybe even mistaken- but surely not a resigning matter?

When people get fanatical about defending- or aggressively advancing- a position- one has to wonder why they're so afraid.  Darwin didn't feel threatened by Theists. Why should his successors?

My own quiet, agnostic suspicion is that a paradigm shift is on its way. Scientific materialism- of a rather basic kind, not really justified by the data- has become the orthodoxy of western liberal society.  It's the norm not to believe in God or spirituality or anything like that. An unexamined Atheism has become our comfort blanket- banishing the need to even consider whole, vast swathes of human experience. Ghosts? Don't exist; end of story- you know the sort of thing.  But what if real science- as in quantum physics- CERN etc- actually suggests otherwise? Well, perhaps we get jumpy and tetchy and start shouting at Muslims.

And sacking mild-mannered professors.

I dont know enough science- of any kind- to take this argument much further. All, I've got, really, is a gut feeling, a hunch. And a distaste for fanaticism. I don't like it when a silly person stands up and bangs the cover of a bronze age religious book (which he probably hasn't read)  and says it contains all the science anyone needs to know- but equally I don't like it when a silly person stands up and bangs the cover of a 19th century science book (which he probably hasn't read) and says it contains all the theology we need to know.  I suspect both of them are running scared.

And what they're running scared of is the truth.